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Psycophysiological analysis of physical exercises in the ‘Falun Gong’ cult

2011-07-29 Author:By K.N. Matulevskiy


K.N. Matulevskiy, doctor-intern of Sports Medicine of the Ukrainian
 Centre of Sports Medicine,
Master of Sports of International Class in Wushu,
International Judge,
Certified Coach of the International Wushu Federation



Theory and practice of the Chinese traditional medicine are expounded in many works, in ancient treatises in particular, which are still topical. Taking into account the time of their origin, we should adequately grasp the implicated sense and some allegory, stipulated by the world outlook, living conditions and science development of that time. It is impossible to completely expose the essence and peculiarities of Chinese medicine, Qigong being one of its techniques, in a brief report.


The Qigong History. The first records of Qigong are found in a classic medical treatise Juan de Neytszin Lingshui Suven by Yellow Emperor, dated back to 2600 D.C. One of the five methods of treatment, mentioned in the book besides the other four (acupuncture with stone needles, use of medicine, cautery and nine needles) is ancient Qigong. Speculations on Qigong one can find in a literary treatise 'The Way of Qi' by Yu Peymin, presumably written in 380 B.C. 'Chuang Tzu' and a famous 'Tao Te Ching' by Lao Tzu also have commentaries on Qigong.  As in the past among the masters of Qigong there were representatives of different directions, the names they used were different: tuna, daoin, sintzu, syudao, neigong, neyyangong, etc. All of these names, despite their differences, refer to the forms prior to Qigong. As scientific research showed, the word combination 'Qigong' is rarely used in ancient sources. We can find it in the essay 'Notes on Pure Faith', written by a Taoist Suy Sun during the Tzin Dynasty (265 – 420) and also in a much later book, published at the end of  the Tzin Dynasty. In 1935 the Publishing house 'Tzhunhua Shutzuy' published a book 'Secrets of Shaolin Fist Fight', where these two hieroglyphs were used – Qigong. But because of the fact that their meaning was not exhaustively explained, they were not asserted as an official term. This situation continued up to 1958, when the book 'Practical Course of Qigong Therapy' by Liu Guychzhen was published, written by him after the consultation with the colleagues. In it these two hieroglyphs were fully explained, after which they established themselves as an official term for all the above-mentioned groups of traditional names. 

The Essence of Qigong. At first, the ideogram of the term 'Qi' was made of two signs: one of them was translated as 'the flow of something in a gaseous state', the other – 'rice' or 'the energy source for a man and an animal'. In whole, the term 'Qi' can be translated as 'the flow of something in a gaseous state which is the energy source for the living creatures'. In Chinese dictionaries the hieroglyph 'qi' is translated differently: air, vital force, spirit, vital energy, mood, moral forces. Qi as a vital energy has its own types and places of localization: ancestral energy (in the kidneys), spiritual energy (in the liver, heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys), nutrient energy (is antenatal, starts functioning with air and nutrients supply), protective and disturbing (causing functional disorders) energies.


Despite the fact that Qi, used in Qigong, can't be seen or touched, it is still material. At the late 1977 in order to reveal the material essence of Qi, the employees of Shanghai Medical Institute, Shanghai Research Institute of Medicine and Shanghai Nuclear Research Institute with the help of modern equipment conducted a profound research of external manifestations of Qi in the Qigong masters and proved, that the external Qi, radiated by them, is material. Ultra-modern equipment registered the signals of infrared radiation, static electricity, magnetic radiation and some particles energy flux. But in order to answer the question whether these signals are Qi itself or only its marks, it is necessary to go on researching.


Thus, the essence of the notion 'Qigong' can be briefly described as training 'Qi' and will training 'i'.  The hieroglyph 'qi' in the combination 'Qigong' means 'respiration'. The hieroglyph 'gong' means continuous conscious improvement of breathing exercises and movements. To practice Qigong means to train Qi and will, that is, to invoke the circulation of Qi with the help of will, which helps to imbue the corresponding internals with Qi. Through such processes the basic Qi is strengthened, due to which it is possible to recover. Qigong is the most important notion of macrobiotics – a theoretical and practical system of longevity development. From the macrobiotics' point of view, Qigong is a system of training of the body and soul in order to develop true Qi, which lets the body mobilize its stamina to promote health, longevity and treat and prevent illnesses.  Because Qigong is a function of consciousness and includes autogenic training techniques, it is regarded as a separate branch of science. We can single out three levels of influence in Qigong: the body, the body energy and consciousness.  To develop all three levels we use movements, respiration and thought. Thought is primary, at this. Without concord of movements with breathing and thinking, Qigong turns into physical training.


There are a lot of directions of Qigong. Besides, its various techniques are spread among people. Depending on body peculiarities and desired result, people accumulated huge practical experience in various techniques employment, that is why the Qigong methods are so rich and various. Today we can count up to 600 types of Qigong, out of which five basic ones are singled out: medical, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist and military.


The purpose of the medical Qigong is health improvement, prevention and treatment of illnesses. In the process of the Chinese medicine development the conception of healthy Qi became the basic theoretical thesis about illnesses (Chen Qi). When a pernicious Qi (exogenous pathogenic factor) intrudes the body from the outside, it necessarily comes into collision with a healthy Qi (in our case – the immune system). In ordinary situations due to the protective ability of a healthy Qi the body gradually overcomes the pathogenic factors, which results in complete recovery. But under some conditions the protective ability of a healthy Qi is insufficient and then the illness develops more actively, even fatal outcome is possible. The Qigong practice develops a true Qi, supports a healthy Qi, increases body resistance to illnesses. Practicing Qigong a sick person wins the victory of a healthy Qi over a pernicious Qi, in this way improving his health. Taking into account its thousand-year practice, the Chinese medicine is based upon a traditional conception of illness origin, according to which a body is a self-sufficient, self-recovering system, where everything is interconnected and balanced, similar to the notion of homeostasis. The illness originates from the discoordination of the processes going on in the body. From the point of view of the modern medicine, Qigong practicing synchronizes neuroimmunoendocrine interaction.


The basis of the Chinese traditional medicine make:


● a yin and yang doctrine, based on the principle of binarity (eg., the processes of assimilation and dissimilation complementarity);
● a theory of Usin, suggesting the existence and interaction of the five primary elements - water, fire, wood, metal and earth;
● a meridian  (channel) theory Jin-LO, according to which there are twelve paired channels in the body, by which Qi circulates, making a circle over 24 hours and two unpaired channels;
● a theory about  flesh (Zhang) and hollow organs (Fu).


The main purpose of the Confucian Qigong is to 'restore the body and revive the Qi energy'. In other words, it means self-improvement and high morality development.


The purpose of the Taoist Qigong practice is to 'pay attention to the body and soul', 'influence life' and restore 'chastity and latency'.


The Buddhist type of Qigong is busy with 'tempering the soul and its liberation'.


The military Qigong aims at tempering the body, strengthening internals and effective forces developing.


The Falun Gong system can't be referred to any of the above-mentioned types, as it is a compilation from the Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist practices. Its symbols are also mixed, including Buddhist as well as Taoist symbols. In the medical type of Falun Gong the knowledge about meridians in a human body, circulation of Qi by them and its managing by force of Qigong is used. But so long as Falun Gong excludes individual approach to a person, it is impossible to consider this system as a medical one. Besides, the treatment by Qigong is called the Qigong-therapy and it is common knowledge that therapy (treatment) without a therapeutist (a doctor or a certified specialist in the field of alternative therapy) is impossible a priori. The Falun Gong exercises are aimed at different things and refer to different types. Besides, we can read in the Falun Gong doctrine: 'Falun in Falun Gong is a living essence, consisting of a high-energy substance, having mental abilities …'. In no other Qigong systems, especially medical ones, can we find a word about nurturing a       living essence inside oneself.  Such statements can bring forward the development of false feelings and images in those, practicing Qigong. From the biological point of view, there are cases of mutually beneficial symbiosis, but it is known that mutually beneficial environment doesn't exclude the possibility of the 'guest' outgrowing the 'host'.


Vice-president of  the Federation of Wushu/Kung Fu and Qigong Ukraine, Master of Chinese Martial Arts L.Y. Solodilina states: 'Qigong practice should take place under the supervision of  a qualified specialist in the field of medicine or physical training and sport, knowing the Qigong system. Without such supervision, Qigong will be not only ineffective, but can result in serious mental and somatic disorders'.


Psychophysiological influence of the five 'Falun Gong' exercises. No doubt, the psychosomatic practicing of Qigong positively effects a human body: it mobilizes the body to oppose illnesses, draws away from stresses, makes for relaxation, including a muscle one, leads to high moral and ethical ideals, works out recovery sets.


Physiological influence of Qigong over the body is realized on behalf of respiration regulation together with coordinated movements and speculative imagination. Respiration development regulates the vegetative nervous system functions, divided into a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic one. At a sympathetic nervous system activation palpitation occurs alongside with vasoconstriction, blood pressure rise, weakening of the gastrointestinal tract peristalsis. At a parasympathetic nervous system activation opposite processes take place. Chinese doctors found out in the clinical setting, that at a continuous long expiration vasodilatation and blood pressure lowering occur, and at a continuous long inspiration vasoconstriction and blood pressure rise are observed. Consequently, with the help of mental activity and will it is possible to regulate the internals activity. In the Qigong practice the notion 'belly breathing' is widely used, meaning abdominal or diaphragmal respiration. At inspiration the diaphragm goes down, enlarging the thoracic cavity size and inspired air volume and at expiration it goes up reducing the thoracic cavity size and ousting the air from the lungs. It is known that if the diaphragm movement amplitude becomes 1 sm wider, the volume of the passed air increases by 259 – 300 ml. It is possible to widen the diaphragm movement amplitude by the will effort. The diaphragm movement amplitude of an adult, practicing Qigong, widens by 5 sm, which stimulates gas exchange, increases oxygen content in blood, strengthens the respiration system. Besides, the Chinese doctors clinically proved that at mastering abdominal respiration in the frame of Qigong, the diaphragm massages internals, improving the gastrointestinal tract peristalsis, facilitating gastrointestinal digestion and intake of food, as well as the whole body nutrition.


As the 'Falun Gong' system doesn't specificate the importance of combining respiration with doing exercises, this system can be considered as Qigong only selectively. Thus, it is one of the types of cult practices.


The Qigong practice should be measured out individually taking into account one's constitutional type, accommodation conditions and illnesses. Thereby, it is appropriate to cite a notorious specialist in Chinese medicine Dr Wu Wei Xin: 'As for the treating techniques, they can't be similar and schematic for one and the same illnesses. They should be selected strictly individually, taking into account the peculiarities of a person's illnesses and his environment … And in order to select the most appropriate techniques, it is desirable for you to be under the supervision of a specialist with medical education, at first'. The move to differently aimed exercises should also be gradual. Dr Wu Wei Xin said: '… the move from one exercise to another should be smooth, gradual, excluding any extremes. The human body is lithe, but it is not the plasticine! The plasticity of living being is an element of nature harmony and we are just a part of it. Nature doesn't forgive sharp and hasty actions. Even if the consequences didn't appear immediately, they won't fail to show up at the most inappropriate moment'. Besides, at impetuous cultivation of strong energy in an unprepared body, as 'Falun Gong' has it, one can suffer irreversible physical and mental changes.


The 'Falun Gong' doctrine doesn't recommend to consult the doctors, but rather '… endure suffering from suffering', explaining it by taking karma and non-interference. But who but the doctor, knowing the Qigong therapy, can definitely say on the basis of the energy interchange processes inside your body, if the 'Falun Gong' practice is OK for you. A 'Falun Gong' instructor won't be able to help you in this matter, because in the chapter 'Qualifying Standards of The Great Law Falun Instructors' of the book 'Chinese Falun Gong' there is no requirement for them to have medical education.  But ignorance of medicine can bring forward losses. Taking this fact into account, we can say that the 'Falun Gong' system cannot be considered as a medical one. Thus, in 'Falun Gong' standing or sitting positions with upright back are often used, which will do harm to the patients with feeble physical state. Because the standing position refers to the Qi Gong complex of exercises 'strengthening of might', it is advisable to do the exercises from the complex 'the innate nutrition' lying supine until a person's state improves. And such nuances are numberless.


Everyone, practicing Qi Gong has individual feelings, that is why it is forbidden to seek definite sensations and impose distinct images, which are also individual. The doctrine says; 'Those, whose Celestial Eye is opened at a low level, can see Falun, rotating like a fan. Those, whose Celestial Eye is opened at a high level, can see the complete picture of Falun. It is a very beautiful and colourful sight, which lets those, practicing Falun, self-improve more hardly and vigorously'. With such attitude the yearning to see 'the wanted image' can result in programmed visual illusions development.


Training Classes Conducting.


It should be mentioned that undertaking Qi Gong, one should not simply learn exercises. First of all it is necessary to analyze one's mode of living: mental and physical activity, free time, addictions, nutrition, one's illnesses and their treatment, etc., decide on one's mood and wish to learn this system. Dr Wu Wei Xin admits: 'Remember: only persistent and patient mastering of this technique can bring forward the anticipated result'. The basic provisions of the Qi Gong practice are universal for all types:


Individual selection of the number of repeats, body positions, type of respiration, dynamic or static character of exercises.


To get maximum medical effect, it is necessary to consider the periods of the utmost body activity.


While practicing, one should be calm.


The exercises should be interchanged with rest.


The length of a static exercise should not be more than 30 minutes, after which there should be some movement (walk).


Gradation in learning – from the lowest to the highest.


It is forbidden to practice Qi Gong after hard physical activity.


It is forbidden to practice Qi Gong on an empty stomach, but not immediately after meal as well.


It is forbidden to practice Qi Gong in the state of agitation.


It is forbidden to practice Qi Gong during a thunderstorm.


It is forbidden to practice Qi Gong if the air is stale or contaminated, but not in the wind or draught as well.


To treat illnesses it is necessary to employ a complex approach – to employ the Qi Gong-therapy in combination with the methods of Orient and West medicine.


It is forbidden to sit on a cold stone or ground after classes.


The most important thing in the Qi Gong complex is gradation and persistence. To be persistent doesn't mean to overpractice, because this can lead to undesirable disorders.
It is necessary to believe in science and not fall under implicit faith in some master or some technique.


To my point of view, for balanced influence of the 'Falun Gong' exercises as a health-improving system, which can be considered as Qi Gong, it is necessary to conduct the training classes in the following way:


● conducting one complex per day, preceding it by a general health-improving warm-up within one's powers;
● a static complex should not be longer than 20 minutes, then dynamic exercises for 3 – 5 minutes are needed;
● exercises should be done in coordination with a certain respiration type, taught separately;
● individual nutrition diet;
● while explaining the processes of energy interchange Qi, it is necessary to rely on Chinese medicine and philosophy, but not on the 'Falun Gong' doctrine;
● individual approach to those, practicing Qi Gong;
● observation of such principles and techniques of physical culture teaching as simplicity, use of visual methods, gradation in learning, etc.
Depending on the illness, it is necessary to combine the Qi Gong practice with medical treatment, massage, self-massage under the supervision of a specialist in medicine.
All above-said lets us draw the following conclusions:
● The necessary requirement to the 'Falun Gong' instructors is the knowledge of medicine, because its practice strongly influences mental and physical state of those, who go in for it.
● The 'Falun Gong' system of exercises can be considered as Qi Gong only selectively because of the absence of the correctly organized process of training and, consequently, practice. 'Falun Gong' is liable to be called a cult practice with different techniques of practicing it, including physical exercises, definite ideas and images suggestion, self-hypnosis on the basis of the author's personality cult in combination with simplicity and availability, the idea of obtaining the alleged recovery, supernatural abilities, contact with space for conscious mergence with the immortal Universe.
● The 'Falun Gong' exercises exclude individual approach and lack diagnostics, which gives grounds to doubt its medical aspect.

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